Review: Friendship Portraits: Chantal Joffe & Ishbel Myerscough, National Portrait Gallery

This two room display at the National Portrait Gallery not only showcases the work of two very different portrait artists but is a close examination of how we see ourselves might not be how everybody else sees us.

Many of the works on display are new portraits, with a selection being displayed for the very first time. It is the first time that the works of both artists are being seen side by side and shows their shared history from being students to becoming mothers.

While many of the paintings selected are self-portraits, there are many examples of each artist doing portraits of each other. Put together, it gives a fascinating insight into the way in which Joffe and Myerscough not only see themselves but also each other.

The two very different styles in which the artists portray themselves and others complement each other nicely. Joffe’s work is more of child like and cartoonish – less focused on the details and about capturing as much of the person as possible. In comparison, Myerscough’s work is more true to life and extremely detailed that it is easier to appreciate her work.

This is particularly seen in the gallery’s new acquisition ‘Two Girls’ by Myerscough, with the challenging stare of the subjects more than capable of holding the viewer’s attention.

In terms of comparison of each of the artist’s work, it feels as though Myerscough’s is the strongest in confidence and capturing an enduring friendship and seeing how it developed. For example seeing them with their children – passing their friendship down to a new generation like in Myerscough’s Mothers and Daughters painting.

If there is one problem with this display that is supposed to be about friendship, it is difficult to see or feel any emotion towards the paintings which don’t seem to emotionally engage the viewer enough to suggest fully the friendship between the pair.

But at the same time all of the portraits give outsiders an insight into the way in which these two women see themselves and each other in an objective way.

It is a fascinating if clinical display of work that shows the development of both artists in their work and personal lives.

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